Option B

By | February 27, 2018

Stating the obvious, there’s a logical reason why people who perform high wire acts in circuses have a safety net below them. Not only does it provide a literal safety net for them if they happen to fall, but it also gives them confidence to know that they can concentrate on walking on the tightrope as they have the reassurance that they won’t be physically injured if they make a misstep. In other words, the fear factor is taken away, allow the circus performer to concentrate on what they do.

When we want to try something that we think is risky, or something new, it is important to have a metaphorical safety net so that we can move forward with the understanding that there is an option b, something to fall back on if we come across some obstacles. Although many self help proponents argue that it’s important to burn all bridges so we do not look back, adopting a “do or die” approach leads to stress, which can actually stop us from moving forward at all. Eliminating or reducing stress leads us to perform better, and helps us concentrate and feel better about what we want to do.

There was an experiment conducted in the early 1970’s by psychologists David C. Glass and Jerome Singer, who wanted to test the effect that a psychological safety net has on stress. They asked the participants to solve puzzles and complete tasks whilst randomly interrupting them with loud and disruptive noises. During that period, many indicators of stress were recorded, including higher blood pressure than normal, and a faster heartbeat experienced amongst the participants. Some participants however were given a “panic button” which they could press at any time to stop the noise. Although given this option, none of the participants actually used the button, but having that option there helped the participants to stay relatively relaxed which in turn helped them to make fewer mistakes. This panic button acted as a psychological safety net.

For business development:

When delegating challenging tasks to staff with the purpose in helping them grow and develop, use some time to go through the psychological safety nets available which will help reduce anxiety that comes with doing something new. One suggestion is to gradually raise the time allocated to the new task, giving staff the ability to go back to something they are comfortable with whilst knowing that they have something to fall back on. When implementing a new IT system, rather than “going live” or flicking the switch between one system and the new, gradually phase in the new system and have the old system full functional in case something goes wrong. This may appear to be common sense, but many businesses prefer the riskier approach because it can save time. Of course this is just a generalization, but having an option b there would help relieve anxiety and minimize the risk of things not working out the way you had planned. At the end of the day, the question of “is it worth it” should be raised and discussed amongst the stakeholders involved.

For personal development:

Perhaps you are thinking about starting a new business, or want to study a course but are not sure if you should or not. To help minimize the stress involved, use some time to set up a safety net for yourself. This is related not only in terms of money, but also in terms of time. If possible, take time off to focus on your ideas or to study so that you don’t need to worry about your job. This will reduce the potential stress that may come up, allowing you to concentrate on what you want to do. Don’t quit your day job yet though (unless you have a large enough financial safety net)!

Do you find this article valuable? If so, check out the book “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. You can receive the book immediately via e-book format (Kindle).